GHOLAM is an Arabic word used to refer to servants or slave-soldiers. It is also the name Mitra Tabrizian gives to her disquieting debut feature and the protagonist of her film – played by the outstanding Shahab Hosseini (The Salesman).
Gholam, a middle-aged Iranian immigrant living in London, finds himself a slave to his warring past and his empty present. Hopeless and penniless (his mum’s words), Gholam works as a mechanic by day before moonlighting as a taxi driver. Any free time is spent in his dingy apartment or in his uncle’s café.
The opening scene of the film – a taxi ride viewed through Gholam’s rear view mirror – gives the impression that Tabrizian might have transplanted Jafar Panahi’s 2015 film Taxi Tehran to the seedy nocturnal streets of London. But Tabrizian takes us out of the taxi to stare into Gholam’s life as an exile of war now living in an alien, at times hostile, environment.
Gholam, introverted but caring, remains connected to events in his homeland. A radio on the passenger seat of his taxi keeps him up to date with the unrest of the Middle East on the brink of 2011’s Arab Spring. He also receives berating telephone calls from his concerned mother and is shadowed by two men who seem all too interested in his past.
This all, however, can be boiled down to one moment when Tabrizian’s camera pans to a piece of graffiti reading ‘GAZA’. No matter how far Gholam travels, he is forever tethered to his inescapable past.
Tabrizian’s style is orderly and detached. She observes unbroken seated conversations from a neat, perfectly-framed distance while allowing Hosseini’s silent skill to carry the bulk of the film.
The methodical tempo of Gholam builds to a whiplash ending on par with Michel Franco’s Chronic. This is an impactful debut from photographic artist Tabrizian and another attention-grabbing display from Hosseini.